It’s happened to all of us. We’re going through job listings when one jumps out at us as The Perfect Job. We click on it, each line of the description making us more and more excited... until we get to the qualifications and experience requirements. They want things we’ve never heard of, or five times more experience than we have, so we sadly stare at it for a while and then click away to find The Job I’m More Likely to Get.
Not so fast. Just because you don’t satisfy their requirements 100 percent doesn’t mean you won’t be able to satisfy them. Job listings are usually written by people who don’t have an intimate understanding of the job and are asking for far more than the position actually requires. If you satisfy at least the most important requirements and have almost the right amount of experience then why shouldn’t you go for it?
Be honest. One of the reasons you quickly click away is because you’ve gotten so into the routine of clicking, reading and finding that things are unsuitable that by this point you’re automatically scanning for the details that disqualify you so you can move on. There’s no telling how many good opportunities you’ve missed out on by doing that, but let’s make sure you don’t do it again:
1. Understand the Job
When you’re applying for a job you are qualified for, it’s easy: "you’re looking for XYZ and I have XYZ!" When you aren’t qualified, you need to dig a little deeper: you need to properly understand the job and the company so you can match what you’re offering to what they need. Rather than impressing them with your insider knowledge and your previous job titles, you need to speak their language - play up transferrable skills like teamwork and interpersonal skills and ensure you’re using their terminology.
Forget about proving to them that you fit the job description: prove to them how you and your skills can get the job done in ways they might have not even thought of. Job listings are often just wishlists, and while you should read them carefully, you shouldn’t assume that what they say is exactly what is required. Properly understand their goals and the challenges they face, be the perfect person to assist them, and you might even create your very own position!
For example: Say you want to move from being a fashion PR to a healthcare PR. Do you think recruiters looking for a healthcare professional are going to be impressed by your intimate knowledge of fall trends, the top designers, and the fashion show disaster you averted? No. They want to know about your transferrable PR skills and how your ability to sniff out a trend will keep them at the top of their game.
2. Lead With the Positive
Starting your covering letter with the classic "I know I’m probably not your ideal candidate, but..." is not the best approach. There’s no reason why a recruiter pressed for time is going to assume anything good comes next. You do need to admit your weaknesses - it shows humility and an understanding of the position - but you don’t need to lead with it.
Instead, be positive and dazzle them with your can-do attitude; prove to them that your unusual career path is actually a good thing, because you’re going to bring a fresh perspective to their company that no one else can provide. If they won’t take you on in a paid role, would they consider an unpaid trial or a short term project you can prove yourself with? (Note: If you do this, ensure that you only agree to a short trial or one project so you don’t find yourself in a position of doing the job without payment.)
Remember that experience is experience, and all experience gives you skills. Create a portfolio that showcases those skills, whether it’s filled with school projects or personal projects you created by learning a skill specific to the role you’re trying to get. Make sure it’s easily available online as a link on your resume so you don’t have to rely on getting an interview to be able to show it off.
3. Appeal to Their Humanity and Ego
People love to be recognized for their achievements and have their ego inflated. You want this person to be your new best friend and hire you, don’t you? Well then, distract them from your lack of qualifications by being personable; people always respond well to people who act like people. They also like applicants who have people in their network who can vouch for them.
Qualifications aren’t everything, especially these days when you can buy just about anything online. Forget about a piece of paper you don’t have and focus instead on the people: the people you need to convince to interview you, the people you need to convince to hire you, the people you need to get to realize how likeable and competent you are so they give you the job.
4. Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter
We’re talking about jobs you aren’t qualified for, so while you want to get any relevant experience high up, you don’t want to start with qualifications or previous jobs that won’t help you. Opt for a functional resume that focuses on your skills and how they can be transferred to this new job; these can backfire because employers don’t always like how difficult they can be to understand, but it’s better than a chronological resume that starts with your completely irrelevant last job.
I’m sure you know that your cover letter should be brief, to the point, and prove your brilliance. But have you heard of the "T-formation" cover letter? This starts with the usual introductory paragraph, and then continues with two columns: the left column lifted directly from the requirements listed in the job listing, and the right column your explanation of how you match up to it. It might just be the way to convince them to rethink what they asked for and consider that you might be making the better offer.
5. Be Reasonable
Don’t be too quick to assume you shouldn’t bother applying for something, or to decide that your dream job is still out of your reach - but know the difference between unqualified and too unqualified. If they want far more experience than you have, then perhaps wait until you have it; if they want you to have an in-depth knowledge of something you’ve never heard of, then you probably shouldn’t apply.
It’s one thing to claim you’re a fast learner willing and able to learn whatever they require, but it’s another to need so much training that they’re taking on a student rather than an employee. Employers can actually be swayed by an enthusiastic applicant who’s underqualified but has the motivation to learn and be trainable, but that doesn’t mean they want to take the time - or pay the expenses - to get you up to speed when they can just hire someone who’s ready.
If you still choose to apply for a job that you really shouldn’t be applying for, then consider finishing your covering letter by acknowledging that you don’t have what they want for that particular position, but you’re willing to become the assistant to the person you would be reporting to. If the position or department is new, or the company is a startup trying to build their workforce, they just might appreciate your positive attitude and help you out.
Think about the prospectus you received when you were accepted to your college: did it not have so much information and so many expectations that it made you suddenly doubt whether the course was right for you? It did, because that’s what prospectuses and job listings do: they use flowery language to fill in space and sound important, but when you really get into it you find that half of it doesn’t happen. Go beyond the job listing and find out what the day to day job would entail; if that sounds like stuff you can do, then go ahead and send in your application.
Have you ever applied for a job you were unqualified for? Are you an HR person who’s written a listing? Let us know in the comments section below.